The Importance of Professional Development for Athletic Directors

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ADs as well as their coaches can benefit from professional development.

Athletic directors (AD) are responsible for organizing and overseeing an educational institution’s sports programs. The position is demanding, high-paced, and detail-oriented, and requires a plethora of niche skills and knowledge. A good AD can successfully juggle all of these balls year after year — but many would argue that the job is never truly mastered. In the ever-changing field of sports administration, there is always more to learn and new ways to improve.

Bruce Brown, executive director of the Ohio Interscholastic Athletic Administration Association (OIAAA), holds this view. “As with any position, one’s decision to go ‘all in’ or take a tepid, toe-dipping approach will have a significant influence on personal growth and skill development as an athletic administrator,” he says in a recent blog post. “The quality athletic administrator makes a commitment to become a continuous learner of all facets of interscholastic athletics.”

There are many professional development options for ADs who choose to take this approach. Some may seek advanced degrees through programs such as Ohio University’s online Master of Athletic Administration. Others take advantage of courses offered by professional organizations. Still, others do both, earning a degree first and then pursuing supplemental education. Whatever combination is chosen, athletic director professional development is a must for those who want to stand out in their field — and maximize their school’s athletic program at the same time.

Core Skills

The National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA), the largest professional association for athletic administrators, strongly believes in the need for athletic director professional development. It supports these efforts through its Leadership Training Institute (LTI) and Certification Program. Offering dozens of courses on core AD skills and areas such as legal issues, technology solutions, booster club management, sports medicine, and much more, the LTI is an invaluable resource for ADs.

NIAAA courses are designed to meet a number of important objectives:

  • To promote professional standards, practices, and ethics
  • To encourage self-assessment by offering guidelines for achievement
  • To improve performance by encouraging participation in a continuing program of professional growth and development
  • To identify levels of educational training essential for effective athletic administration
  • To foster professional contributions to the field
  • To maximize the benefits received by the school community from the leadership provided by certified athletic administrators

These objectives mostly benefit the AD’s individual school and the profession as a whole. However, the NIAAA believes that athletic directors also reap many personal benefits from its offerings, including a sense of personal and professional satisfaction, a demonstrated commitment to excellence in the profession, increased personal knowledge and expertise and increased the potential for employment opportunities or incentives. With personal and professional advantages, continuing education in core competencies is a worthwhile endeavor for any athletic director.

New Times, New Challenges

Along with their time-tested duties, athletic directors also face new challenges that arise due to changing times and trends. An AD simply cannot be fully prepared for these eventualities. A flexible attitude and a willingness to seek education and answers are required.

Dr. David Hoch, who spent 16 years as a high school athletic director and 12 years as the executive director of the Maryland State Coaches Association, gives examples of some recent additions to the AD’s already full plate:

  • Technology. New mediums for communication are developing at a staggering rate. An athletic administrator has to stay up to date and learn to use the latest methods.
  • Risk management. Athletic administrators have always been responsible for ensuring a safe environment for their student-athletes. In recent years this duty has expanded to include concussion protocols, prevention of hazing and bullying, heat illness, and several other risks. More issues likely will arise in the coming years, and ADs must stay informed and prepared.
  • Managing change. An athletic director has to help coaches, athletes, and parents to adjust to new legislation, technology, and changes in the school district. This responsibility means providing updates, explaining new developments, answering questions — and, of course, staying abreast of each change as it occurs.
  • Accommodating new segments of students. Athletic programs are under increasing pressure to serve special-needs students. ADs must seek ways to adapt to demand. Another example is the growing body of transgender students who wish to participate in a team. The athletic director may need to create policies to accommodate this group of athletes.

Coaching the Coaches

The AD is not the only member of the athletic department who can benefit from professional development. Coaches and assistant coaches need continuing education, too. By seeking improvement for himself or herself, the athletic director sets the tone and encourages others to do the same. The AD also plays a more direct role by ensuring that the yearly budget includes funds for professional development. “I think it’s so important,” says Rick Johns, athletic director of the Providence Academy in Plymouth, MN. “I would spend money on that before I would buy new uniforms.”

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) gives several examples of ways professional development can improve an athletic director’s coaching staff:

  • Helping team to keep current with safety and training methods and best practices
  • Allowing coaches a forum to network with their peers, sharing their challenges and successes with a much wider audience
  • Encouraging open and honest evaluation from peers

These types of benefits directly help individual coaches and teams — and by doing so, they indirectly help the athletic program as a whole. The athletic director who prioritizes professional development for everyone on the team, not just himself or herself, builds the best possible foundation for success.

About Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration Degree

Ohio University’s online MAA program is designed to teach professionals how to successfully approach high school sports manager duties, as well as how to manage the many changes in interscholastic sports. The university launched the nation’s first academic program in sports administration in 1966 and continues to be a leader in sports business education.

Ohio University’s online MAA program is housed within the university’s College of Business, underscoring its dedication to providing world-class sports business education.

The program works in collaboration with the NIAAA to prepare graduates for certification and is accredited by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA).

Recommended Reading

The Importance of Implementing Professional Development Programs for Coaches
NIAAA Certification and What It Entails
A Guide to Networking for Athletic Directors


OIAAA News, “Importance of AD professional development”
NIAAA, “NIAAA’s Leadership Training Institute, Professional Development Academy”
Coach & A.D., “A.D.ministration: The evolving athletic director position”
 Coach & A.D., “Budgeting for professional development”
National Federation of State High School Associations, “How professional development improves coaching “